Breathing shoes, bacteria and biotech: how 'ultra-personalisation' could be the new luxury

 Image: MIT

Image: MIT

Personalisation is a key characteristic of luxury. But as the widespread collection of digital data allows most brands and businesses to target us on an individual level, it’s no longer a differentiator. Now, the goal is ‘ultra-personalisation’, and premium brands are looking for new ways to achieve this.

The premium beauty space in particular is becoming increasingly saturated, and brands must be quick to identify and respond to the premium consumer’s changing demands. Those harnessing biological data may have the edge on their competitors. 

US skincare brand Knours is creating products for women at different stages in their menstrual cycle; the range is accompanied by the U-Kno app, which analyses the user’s monthly cycle to generate personalised skincare recommendations. Similarly, MIT-based Atolla Skin Lab is using machine learning, combined with face to face consultation, to create personalised skincare products tailored to the consumer, based on environmental factors and personal dermal data. Atolla also gives customers the option to track their skin health in the long term in order to better understand their changing needs.

In the adjacent wellness market, supplement brand Nutrigene encourages customers to provide their DNA to receive a customised supplement plan, based on individual genetic nutritional needs.

But perhaps even more ground-breaking is the potential use of biotechnology for personalisation in sportswear. Puma, in collaboration with the MIT Design Lab, is experimenting with sportswear that adapts directly to the biology of the wearer and their environment.

Products exhibited as part of Milan Design Week in April 2018 included ‘The Breathing Shoe’, which is filled with bacteria that responds to heat from the wearer’s foot, eroding the material to create unique breathable passages; and ‘Deep Learning Insoles’, which, using bacteria that responds to chemicals in sweat, collect biological information that is transmitted back to the user via a layer of electronic circuits. This can offer insights on performance, including fatigue levels.

Not only does this technology sharply distinguish premium sportswear from the current general athleisure trend, it provides another level of performance-enhancing capabilities that those who are serious about sport are looking for. For athletes, brands often have a surface-level significance; the performance of their products is key.

For example, although associated with Nike, sweat-wicking technology was an invisible innovation, which elevated the physical experience of sportswear for the athlete. But biotech goes further, offering the potential to bring performance wear closer than ever to the physicality of the athlete. The user is able to benefit from advanced technology that is rooted deeply in biological processes, and in this way become more in tune with their own performance.

Puma has shown us a glimpse of what’s possible and desirable for the next generation of performance wear, and what consumers may be looking for (and more willing to invest in) in order to elevate their own performance.

The fact that biology is starting to play a role in luxury products may start to align the priorities of the luxury consumer closer to those of the performance sportsperson; the appeal of premium items will become less about signifying something to others via the cache of a luxury name, and more about investing in a product that understands their needs better than they do.

Jessie Smith, Flamingo